My interest in Lebanese food began when I was just learning how to cook, around age 12. My best friend’s mom was from Lebanon and I can remember the food she made as being unlike anything I’d ever tasted, but so much better than what I was used to. I wanted to write down her recipes, but she never used any – she just cooked by feel. It was such a departure from what I thought cooking was at that point, when I was beginning to explore cooking by way of my mom’s tattered Fanny Farmer Cookbook.
My love for Middle Eastern food grew from those dinners at my friend’s house into an obsession with finding the best mezze in Portland (and pretty much anywhere else I went) and making my own hummus, baba ghannouj, and tabouli.
In our last apartment, we lived across the hall from a girl whose father is Lebanese. She cooked this dish one night and I fell in love with it (I can never say no to carmelized onions!) but never got around to making it myself until now. It’s traditionally made with rice, but I found a recipe that uses bulgur (which I’m growing fonder of by the week), so that’s what I used. With a nice fresh salad and some pita, you’ve got a perfect dinner!
Note: I know the onions in the picture don’t look particularly carmelized. After 45 minutes I was tired of waiting around and ate my dinner with the onions still pale. It was good, but next time I’ll let them get browner.
(adapted from Alice’s Kitchen by Linda Dalal Sawaya)
1/2 an onion, chopped
2 onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 cup bulgur
1 cup lentils (I used green)
4 cups water, plus more as you go
1/4 tsp cayenne
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the chopped onion and saute for two or three minutes, until golden.
Add the lentils, 4 cups of water, a few pinches of salt, and the cayenne. Bring to a boil.
Lower the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 45 minutes to an hour (it will depend on your lentils – check them after about 40 minutes, and if they still have a chalky or chewy texture, they need to keep going). You may need to add some water if the lentils begin to look dry – add about a quarter of a cup and keep your eye on them.
Once you have the lentils going, heat the remaining 3 tbsp of oil in a large heavy skillet or Dutch Oven. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until dark brown. Keep the heat low so they don’t burn.
When the lentils are tender, stir in the bulgur (add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water if the lentils are dry) and simmer for about 20 minutes.
To serve, put the bulgur and lentils on a plate, then top with the carmelized onions.